Like others, I have seen the ecological and aesthetic disasters of efforts in the construction of sea walls and marinas. Many aspects are involved, notably environment versus development. It is an age-old controversy, and one that is filled with examples of prior blunders. I do know one thing, when mankind damages the ocean, it is going to be a mistake we will all see, and future generations will look back at with dismay.  If we had more foresight than hindsight, perhaps we could have avoided many of those blunders. Sometimes, it can be done right with emphasis on growth rather than destruction as illustrated in the project for a new 52-slip dock with an artificial barrier reef for the protection of the beach and the prevention of erosion on the shore at Nail Bay, Virgin Gorda.

The purpose of the dock at Nail Bay is to provide marine access and facilities for the residents of the luxury resort development. The purchasers of about 50 new lots and villas that will be offered for sale as part of the new 5-Star Taj Exotica, Spa and Residences at Nail Bay will be able to select a slip with their purchase.


Rendering by OBM International

The slips will have 13-16ft draft and accommodate twenty-four 35’ boats, twelve 50’ boats and fourteen 60’ boats. That is an attractive prospect for anyone investing in the Islands. Nail Bay Resort, under the leadership of Ajit George, has seen over $50 million in villas constructed to date with a state of the art infrastructure with stand-by generators and a water supply and distribution system already installed. The slips will have many amenities such as water, electricity, internet and phone service for boats but will direct all vessels to local marinas for fuelling and provisioning. There will be many opportunities for local businesses to participate in the operations of this marine facility, including providing fishing and boat charters.

The docks are almost a byline of what is about to become one of the world’s largest artificial barrier reefs, according to Ajit George, Managing Director of Nail Bay, who first came to Virgin Gorda twenty-seven years ago. “This is as much about protecting our eroding beaches and the surrounding reefs as developing another amenity at our resort. We don’t go into things lightly and want to improve the coastal environment at Nail Bay that is better than it has been for over two decades.” In fact, the contractors for the artificial barrier reef, Coastal Restoration, Inc. and Artificial Reefs, Inc., have been responsible for several projects, most recently in Negril, Jamaica. My personal view of structured engineering in the ocean environment has led me to discard the theory that everything should be left alone to its natural processes. I do not think that can be the motive of anyone truly interested in the environment, and as I read through the in-depth Environmental Report on the project, prepared by ecologist Clive Petrovic, I am increasingly more fascinated at the concept of constructing an ecosystem rather than destroying one.


Scott Bartkowski, who developed this design for Artificial Reefs, Inc., describes the artificial barrier reef as “a wave attenuation device acting as a porous groyne. Traditional sea walls or breakwaters are simply solid and vertical, restricting underflow and serve the purpose of deflecting the impact of swell or waves. On the other side the water is calm and seems unnatural. Consider a collection of porous pyramids letting the sea-life and sediment flow through its tunnels yet deflecting the higher impact of oncoming swells, in essence attenuate and not refract. High energy changes to low energy on the other side of the barrier still giving flow and access for all marine life. This also restores beach lines with sand being deposited on the shore rather than clawed back out rapidly by high-impact swells.”

The device, simple in design, has many positive attributes. Surface wave energy is deflected up, not down, at an angle. The vertical component reduces and deflects the horizontal vector of any incoming wave energy. This attenuates wave energy, releasing any bottom material being carried with the wave from suspension. In addition, suspended sand particles are greatly reduced from vertical lifting movement, and deposition then begins around the front and behind the reef. Any energy passing through the ten openings of each individually placed pyramid has its energy levels greatly decreased. The openings also allow natural light to surround the structure, encouraging reef development on the numerous faces of the hollow structure, creating a new marine habitat. Mr. George says, “These wave attenuation devices will be custom built in Virgin Gorda to be site specific, and the structures often, naturally rebuild the eroded beach through sand accretion. These artificial barrier reefs are estimated to produce between .2 and .48 metric tons of marine biomass per square meter of substrate provided by the very large wave attenuation devices.  This is on an annual basis after the first year of being in place.”


To place everything in context, the reef is to be placed on the northeast coast of Virgin Gorda, north of Mahoe Bay and adjacent to and south of Long Bay. In the Environmental Report, it was noted that fish species in the area had been greatly reduced due to overfishing, and that activity has now decreased. The Artificial Barrier Reef is the first of a two-phase operation.  The reef is designed in two sections, an eastern portion about 760 feet long and a western portion about 900 feet long. It will be placed in depths ranging from 13-18 feet, emerging about five feet from the surface in areas and some 400 feet from the shore. As each structure weighs 60 tons, 256 three-sided units made in Virgin Gorda, each with a 25-foot wide base with a rounded top, will be placed by a local contractor using a barge to create a pyramid type structure.

Having provided the coastal protection, the next challenge was to design a dock that complements the natural beauty of the Nail Bay setting. “Nail Bay has a stunning, rugged beauty, with the natural curve of the beach, the secondary curve of the shallow reef that follows the shoreline and the variation in colour of the ocean, from the turquoise of the sandy patches within the reef to the darker blues as the water deepens,” said Tim Peck, of OBM International. He added, “The challenge was to design a dock structure that compliments and becomes part of the setting rather than imposes itself upon it when viewed from sea level and also from the road and the residences high up on the hillsides.” OBMI came up with a unique design solution, allowing a freeform dock to follow the curve of the outer face of the reef, picking up on the natural curve of the primary colour transition in the bay (see cover of YG for rendering of proposed dock). The curved dock is positioned away from the face of the reef and allows for docking on the outer face only, thereby forming a barrier providing an additional element of protection for the near shore reef. The natural curve will be highlighted at night with a linear LED lighting system set into the inner face of the dock platform.


The link to the shore follows a natural break in the existing reef, creating a 300-foot long promenade, which stretches out to the arrival pavilion, and welcomes those guests who arrive by boat onto the property. There will be two slips reserved for ferries between the various islands. The sculptural form of the pavilion will provide shelter for those awaiting a ferry, and the approach promenade will accommodate golf carts to collect the guest’s luggage.

Extending offshore about 300 feet with an access walkway to shore, the two 500-foot long arcs of the dock will become a significant amenity for the Nail Bay Resort, providing an attractive walkway for visitors and residents, taking in the views out to the Dogs and those back to Nail Bay and on up to Gorda Peak with the bonus of an appreciation of the protected reef area alongside the inner face of the dock. The southwestern arm of the dock terminates in a swimming platform, which sits over one of the sandy blue holes in the reef, allowing guests easy and safe access to enjoy a sample of the Nail Bay marine life in almost a lagoon environment.  

Evidence has been found that, amongst the species studied on the inshore areas, the endangered Acropora corals are in abundance and hopefully will be protected further from ground sea wave damage by the installation of the Artificial Barrier Reef. Notably, due to overfishing, there is a reduction in conch, grouper and lobster which the developers hope will be able to thrive back to its natural state. Naturally, there will be some impact; however, the proposal to us at YG seems to be a positive one overall.

Nail Bay resort is just beautiful, and it has to be one of my personal favourite places on Earth. The houses and landscaping speak for a community that looks after itself from every angle. Its coastline is raw and rugged, and imagination pours into endless sea views. Every time I have been there, for work or play or both, I have always been charmed by the people who proudly call Nail Bay their home. It makes sense that the next phase is to encourage more of a community with ocean access. Sometimes developers do the right things in the wrong way, and it’s refreshing that the conscientious team at Nail Bay has all the intentions and research to do it right. That, in development anywhere is a blessing.

Nail Bay is planning a public offering of shares in its parent company where shares will be offered to both belongers and non-belongers to finance the proposed dock and a 5-Star luxury resort that is going to be established at Nail Bay, Virgin Gorda, BVI. Potential investors in Nail Bay may contact Ajit George at [email protected]